The Constitution Project is urging the Supreme Court to take the case of convicted murderer Alan Ray Hinton because his defense counsel was ineffective for failing to hire a competent forensics expert where the State’s case against Mr. Hinton rested solely on the testimony of its own forensic specialists. In a “friend of the court” brief filed October 21, TCP argues that the failure to hire a qualified expert violated Hinton’s Sixth Amendment right-to-counsel, which may have “led to a miscarriage of justice, and caused an innocent man to be sentenced to death.”
Hinton was arrested in 1985 and charged with two separate shooting murders that occurred during robberies at two fast food restaurants near Birmingham, Alabama. There were no eyewitnesses to either crime, and the fingerprints lifted from each crime scene did not match Hinton’s. He was convicted of murder based solely on ballistic tests, which both the National Academies of Science and the FBI have determined to be scientifically unreliable.
Hinton’s court-appointed lawyer recognized prior to trial that the expert he had retained to challenge the prosecution’s critical forensic evidence was not competent to do so, but wrongly believed he could not obtain the funds necessary to hire a better one. In fact, had he researched Alabama law, the lawyer would have found that the court was required to provide him with reasonable fees for an expert. TCP’s brief argues that this mistake constitutes a “deficient performance that prejudiced the defendant” in violation of his constitutional right to effective counsel, a claim the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals incorrectly rejected. The brief further argues it is critical for the Supreme Court to grant the petition for certiorari now because the stringent limits on federal habeas proceeding under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 could preclude further review later.
TCP is grateful for the pro bono assistance of Sidley Austin in preparing the brief.